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HUD's Castro Worries That Housing Rule Could Be Rolled Back

HUD Secretary Julian Castro hopes his likely successor, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, will come to support many of HUD's programs, but worries whether he'll roll back a new fair housing rule.
Ariel Zambelich
HUD Secretary Julian Castro hopes his likely successor, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, will come to support many of HUD's programs, but worries whether he'll roll back a new fair housing rule.

Outgoing Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro's office overlooks a stretch of the Washington, D.C., waterfront where several high-rent apartment buildings are being built, in a city where affordable housing is in short supply and homelessness is a big problem.

These are some of the same issues his successor will have to deal with as head of an agency that provides housing aid to 10 million low-income families.

Castro has been in his post for 2 1/2 years. Before that, he was mayor of San Antonio, where he got some experience with housing and community development. He's expected to be succeeded by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who says his main experience for the job was growing up poor.

Castro says he and Carson spoke by phone about a week ago, but didn't talk specifics.

"I just pledged that we wanted to make sure there's a smooth transition, and to make sure that he has everything that he needs as he heads toward his confirmation hearing," Castro says.

At the confirmation hearing, which is scheduled for Thursday, Carson will likely face questions about whether he's up for a job that he himself expressed reservations about taking, when it was offered by President-elect Donald Trump.

Castro thinks, like other secretaries before him, that Carson will grow to appreciate HUD's role once he learns more about it. Still, he's clearly worried that the new administration could roll back some key initiatives. Carson has strongly criticized a new HUD rule to get local communities to comply with the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which is intended to reduce neighborhood segregation.

"I'd be lying if I said that I'm not concerned about the possibility of going backward, over the next four years," Castro says.

Carson has called the new rule excessive government regulation. He's also complained that government aid can make some people too dependent. Congressional Republicans have proposed time limits and work requirements for those getting housing assistance, to make them more self-sufficient. Castro thinks that's the wrong approach.

"The first things we need to do is to clarify misperceptions about the families who get HUD assistance," Castro says.

He says most are elderly, disabled or already working.

"I believe that the folks who live in public housing are ambitious, that they have tremendous potential and that we should invest in them. I don't believe that we should go back to the mid-1990s and scapegoating them and talking about doing away with HUD and so forth," he says.

Not that Carson has said as much. In fact, he's said very little. His confirmation hearing will be the first real chance the public has to see where he stands on programs, including one of the Obama administration's biggest achievements — moving tens of thousands of homeless individuals, mostly veterans, into permanent housing. That effort has had bipartisan support, but future funding is in doubt because Trump says he wants steep cuts in domestic spending.

"On the other hand, the president-elect has talked about investment in infrastructure, investment in other things. And so, it's possible that we're in for a surprise," Castro says.

He won't be around to find out. Castro is getting on a plane first thing on Inauguration Day, going back to San Antonio to work on his memoir.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.
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